In Loving Memory

Two months & eighty nine years ago, the mountainous Rincon barrio of Caguas Puerto Rico welcomed its newest member – Sabad Fiueroa Cabezudo. Born one of three children to a modest family, he would go on to pursue a life that few chroniclers of history would deem worthy of retelling. But history should not be merely be a lineage of states, politics and strife. History is just as much about the lives of people. And to that end, here is his story.

Life in the newly American Puerto Rico was was yet to reflect the equality espoused by it’s new governor. Poverty was something people were born into and died out of. Work was one’s only welfare. In this societal paradigm, Sabad had formed both his values and his dreams. He grew up fast, quitting school and taking up jobs at an early age. But this did not serve his ambition well. He dreamed for opportunity, and sought it with equal fervor. As it was, such drive found few avenues for Puerto Rico’s rural poor. So he did what he knew he had to, he joined the military. In his own words, “you got clothes, you got food and you got paid.” After enlisting with Puerto Rico’s other volunteers that composed the the 65th infantry, he made way for Pusan, Korea to serve as a driver in the Korean War. Much of this time was left undiscussed, for reasons that can only be assumed. But, it is likely that this time shaped his characteristically quiet demeanor.

After being discharged, Sabad made his way for New York’s South Bronx. It was here in 1953 that he met my Abuela, Emelia Santiago. Two years later, they would have their first and only daughter, Yvette. At this same time, he began to embark on learning the trade that would become his career – cooking. It was this skill that would allow Sabad to provide for his family, and in time he would pass the passion for that skill on to his his grandson.

It wasnt until 1988 that Sabad would become a grandfather. Yet for this I am grateful because for the first time I was blessed with the chance to share in his love. As I knew my grandfather, it was only as a man who loved his family deeply, more than he ever loved himself. Every year I went to visit there was never anything but an air of joy from the moment I saw his smiling face at the airport in San Juan. And when my brother and I would eventually have to leave, tears were not in short supply for any of us.

Sabad Figueroa lived out his retirement in Bayamon Puerto Rico, in the home left to him and my grandmother by my great grandmother. It was here that my brother and I would play dominoes with him late into the warm nights, as he smoked. Smoking was a part of his life since the age of 11, and by the grace of God he managed to keep healthy for a very long time. But then a year ago he learned of the bladder cancer that ended his life this morning. And though may tears may profuse now, I rest easy knowing that he has been called home to heaven.

I miss you abuelo.

RIP, Sabad Figueroa Cabezudo. December 9th, 1924 – February 20th, 2012

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Looking Onward, To A New Year

The coming of a new year is an event a great many look forward to with excitement and optimism, even if January 1st is little more than a day on a calender. New years bring packed gyms, new haircuts and many more commitments from the non-commital. One could easily lay the blame upon mass media and well funded advertising. But looking in closer, one must confront the uncomfortable fact that the ads that tell us to lose weight and become a fitter, happier and more productive human being* are striking at a profound angst within most all of us.

In the spirit of looking for hope in the future, many of us make personal resolutions toward change. Few of these survive past march. And in this we see two competing forces in a dance around the aforementioned angst, optimism and non-commitment. Of course the forward momentum of human kind would seem to show that optimism is in the lead. But realistically, this is a mere illusion of history. The propulsion of man has at best been driven by the vision of an ambitious few. And their visions are largely carried on the shoulders of the masses, many of whom seek little more than scant opportunities for pleasure in life.

Now, in case anyone is misled by this seemingly synical and wizened tear, let me tell you that I too fall victim to this dance with consistency. We all do. Even those ambitious few have had their moments of dismay, as the once poor Lincoln would have seemed after three of his four sons failed to see adulthood. But it is in these times of dismay that we most deeply confront the meaning of hapiness in our own lives. Personally I find greatest hope & happiness in the same way as another, much older, man by the name of Abraham.

I know that I will see many more moments of dismay pursuing my hopes and dreams, as will most everybody. But for those who can still remain hopeful and at piece in even the deepest pits of grief and self loathing, the is future a thing of hope no matter what may come.

Unless of course the Tzolk’in is correct

*Thanks Radiohead

Giving Thanks

Five days removed, Thanksgiving is still something my mind is dwelling on. Its not that this year was all that distinguishable from the last. The food was still in delicious abundance & the time spent with my family & friends was as deeply mollifying as ever. Maybe it was the change of venue, switching in my cousin Matt’s beautiful home in Rhode Island for the Connecticut home of my uncle Mike. But really, it was the ride back to Philly. Crawling along in traffic I could not help but to reflect on the fact that in the light of my present condition, the many things that I have to be thankful for cast a long shadow over most anything I could muster complaint against.

While the things I am thankful for could easily fill a few volumes, this is not what strikes me the most. Rather it is the very focus on thankfulness that this great holiday inspires. Thankfulness is something my life desperately lacks. And while I can assign most of this guilt to time distracted, the fault lies within me. Just as any skill demands focused practice, so too does thankfulness.

Not only does embracing active thankfulness bear the fruits of temperance and humility, it inspires lives of generosity. And in this spirit of thankfulness, we are best equipped to acknowledge how precious little we have can be claimed of our own doing. In this time of advent, I will commit to focusing on thankful praise. Especially for that greatest of all gifts, Grace.

 

For a great post on the season advent, check out the blog of my good friend Paul. You’ll be glad you did.

http://paulburkhart.wordpress.com/2011/11/28/welcome-to-advent-2011-1/

 

Teeth, and other things

October of 2011 is a month that will long stay in my memory. If any thing it’s the tests. For the last three weeks, examinations have have posed a relentless challenge to me and my stalwart classmates. But after this afternoon’s mammoth pathology exam we are nearly in the clear. This could have not come sooner considering that fall is the most beautiful season, and as of yet I have so little to claim from it.

In these past few weeks endless studying has still left some room for enjoying life. Church has played a major role in this, especially since I had the opportunity to come in covenant as a “member” this past Sunday. Surprisingly, a growing source of pleasure has been practicing my skills in the pre-clinic at dental school. Sure, its not jump out of your skin exciting. But, as with any skill the passage from learner to practitioner bears the gift of satisfaction – the seed of loving what you do

A major aspect of what has made Restorative Dentistry III the best of the pre-clinical courses thus far is the material that has been covered. The subtitle for the course is effectively Fixed partial dentures, aka fpd or crown and bridge. We have been learning how to prepare teeth for crowns and bridges, make provisional/temporary crowns and bridges, and finally casting and glazing for porcelain fused to metal and all ceramic crown and bridge.

The enclosed series of pictures details what goes into making the metal part of a porcelain fused to metal crown. As you can see, there are a lot of steps involved – which may as well mean that there are a lot of ways this can go wrong. Appropriately, the last picture here is a dreaded miscast. There should not be holes in there, as one could probably guess. So this means I have to do it from scratch, which I don’t really mind because to quote my favorite Irish playwright, “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.” This seems to explain a lot of my life lately. But more on that later. That and some preps and a provisional for a bridge across three front teeth.

Better Late Than Never?

In every part of our country’s social history, the people who have played some part in it have been looking for ways to self improvement. Whether it be the founders who sought freedom to conduct themselves apart from self proclaimed authority, or our fore-bearers who sought freedom from old world poverty, the people of America have always known there is something more. For many in our modern age these goals are similar, if only ramified by modern consumerism. In my own experience I went from a listless high schooler to a person obsessed, often excessively, with becoming a better man. In my best times my faith is at the center of such goal making. However, sin does have a way of creeping in.

Ever since barely scratching my way out of high school, I thought that scholastic excellence and discipline would assure me a seamless road toward success and happiness. I’m one of the few who went to college assured of what I wanted out of it. However, during college I was more A fool than I ever allowed myself to believe. I cast off all desires for social ties. Its not a surprise I left with so few. As I got into grad school, I was finally getting tired of my asceticism. By God’s grace I met great people who showed me it is alright to live. As my career path was beginning to hone in on what I had long hoped for it to be, I began to try and regain some what I had ignored for so long. Before long, my biggest personal goal was to gain some semblance of a social life. Something that should be so basic. But to my shame, spiritual growth was being eclipsed by my desire for social growth.

I’ve made progress, but I still have much to learn. I still feel inexorably awkward around people, not trusting my own words. I wind up in states of analysis paralysis, and wind up doing things that in hindsight are stupid or even disrespectful. Lets not even get into relational pursuits. Sometimes I look back upon where I was in undergrad, fully aware of how much I had missed in my solitude, and wish I could have the old me back.

And it is in this that I must give thanks to God for where he has taken me, and in prayer find the resolve to press forward knowing that this is only a foretaste of what lay ahead. For all of my verbal fumbles and situational errors can really only have one of two purposes. The first, which I can often fall into amidst the prideful doldrums of self pity, is too chalk it up to weakness. This leaves me to doubt my self further as I grow in resentment of my situation. But, in faith I trust that God will me lessons in my failures. And even more importantly humility. It is in this I pray that I will have strength to see my weakness for what it is and move forward with a sense of what “self improvement” really means .

A reflection. One of many.

Looking back on the prevalent themes of classic & modern literature, mankind’s struggles with angst flow like water through some of our most beloved tales. The archetype of almost all adventure fiction, the hero’s journey, is so widely celebrated in no small part because it reveals to us threads of hope through self transforming triumphs over the entrapment of angst. Yet most of us live our lives relegating such hopes of victory to fantasy. It makes sense of course, seeing as the most fervent ambitions in our hearts are the ones that are the most absurd.

I have known this to be all too true in my own life. I know that at times I pursue my own goals like an addict, scheming and planning, hoping that if I do everything right I’ll get what I want in the end. But then my absurd designs fall through, & my desires go unrequited. I get down on myself and I wind up looking with a sense of “whats the point” on more and more aspects of my life. I ultimately resign to a secluded state in which I deny all ambitions – or even worse, lash out in sin. I convince myself that I’m not good enough and make peace with not growing. This is me at my worst.

As I reflect on the events of this day ten years ago, I can’t help but wonder if such a behavioral model may hold true when looking at the perpetrators of the most senseless act of violence in mankind’s recent memory. These 19 “men” (for lack of a better pronoun; no respect is given here in the slightest) carried out a plan many years in the making with horrific results. No one knows for certain what compelled each of them to do this, though the theories are myriad. Living in a world that has in many respects rejected change since the european renaissance, one could surely assume that these 19 had encountered many daunted dreams in their day. Maybe they were lashing out over lives filled with pent up angst and aggression at what they thought to be the source of their problems. Is this man at his worst? Deep down inside are we all in someway capable of crossing over into such a depraved state?

In reality such possibilities never leave the realm of theory for most of us, and that is something we should all be grateful for. While this prideful self-destruction exists as a possibility for all of us, so too does grace. And in grace, purpose. 9/11 brought people together who would have never otherwise had any reason to do so. It focused all of our attention. It shifted our perspective. And while the trajectory that was followed by the leadership of this country may have once again fallen victim to prideful, arrogant scheming, the people gained a new dialectic. One wherein this country is seen not as a given, but a blessing.

In truth we need to continually adopt this paradigm for both our lives and our country. I know that my life is short, and if I spend it trying to grab for whatever I can as fast as I can, I will ultimately come away with nothing. The same can be said for our country. If we keep striving to retain control of everything that transpires outside our own borders we may one day look back and ask where has our country gone. If 9/11 can teach us anything on this it’s tenth anniversary, it may be that humility is the cure to many of our ills. Because it is in humility that we can begin to focus on the aspects of life that are truly important, and why we are on this earth in the first place.

 

On this, the tenth anniversary of September the 11th, 2001 I offer my prayers for God’s saving grace in the lives of all it has touched.

Storms

It is really amazing what natural disasters, even those that don’t transpire, do to us. Just being warned of the possibility we buy things we’d never otherwise buy, & the news cycle churns ceaselessly. We go indoors and just ride it out, hoping that our greatest fears do not come to pass. And why all this fear and preparation? It’s because we want to keep hold of those things with which we define our lives. The thought of losing power and all of the other important things we can so easily take for granted rattle out of us the insecurity that tells us we really don’t rule this world, despite all of our inventiveness. But in truth, such revelations can be good for us. Like New Orleans after Katrina or Manhattan after 9/11, we are brought together in times of trial. And for a moment, we can look to the future with eyes wide open and see what matters most to us. Hope for a better future, embracing life in each of it’s miraculous yet fleeting moments, the relationships we have and further hope to form.

But then the storm passes. We return to our lives, and quickly forget our inspired moments of commitment. I know that Hurricane Irene wasn’t as bad in Philly as it was in other areas, and for that I can only give praise to God. And in that I thank him again, because at least for this moment the storm has made me look with new eyes on the simple windswept beauty of a calm morning.